The AAOS Leadership Fellows Program | Orthopedics This Week

The AAOS Leadership Fellows Program


Just in case we run out of born leaders, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) will make them. For one intensive year, young orthopedists accepted into the Leadership Fellows Program (LFP) not only receive a systematic introduction to leadership concepts, but they also gain a didactic experience and an intimate understanding of the workings of the Academy.

The Structure of Teaching Leadership

Dr. Steven Frick, Chair of the AAOS Leadership Development Committee, lays the groundwork: “Several years ago AAOS created a strategic plan that would include the needs of the Academy over the next 5-10 years. It became clear that identifying and developing future leaders would advance the profession by giving young people educational opportunities, peer networks and knowledge of AAOS and its multiple roles. I was fortunate to participate in the first class, held in 2002-03.”

So what type of person is interested in the program? Usually the mature individual, says Dr. Frick.

The surgeons who apply to the LFP tend to organize their work in a way that benefits not just the individual patient but our profession and society as a whole. Not only are they energetic and committed, but their values are in line with those of the ideal doctor whose interests aren’t their own. We normally garner around 60-80 applications per year from those who are eligible, namely doctors who have completed two years of practice after the completion of their training. Candidates write a personal statement that includes information on any past experiences or future aspirations which might have led them to pursue leadership training; they also present two letters of reference from AAOS fellows.

Those accepted into the program go behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Dr. Frick: “The initial LFP meeting takes place at the annual AAOS conference, where we hold an orientation session and the fellows meet their mentors—senior AAOS leaders—for the coming year. The group next comes together at AAOS headquarters in mid-March for an intensive overview of the Academy. Each council Chair explains his or her role, and the staff and physician leadership discuss their respective goals. On the second day of this meeting the fellows go through a four hour media skills workshop with a professional media skills educator. They learn about print media and do videotaped interviews, with a focus on television interviews so that they learn to make two or three points and communicate clearly and effectively (soundbites).”

“Also included at this stage, ” says Dr. Frick, “are team building exercises geared toward getting acquainted. The fellows pair off with their mentors, interview them, and then take two minutes to tell the class about that person. This is also the time when they are asked to begin thinking of a project that will somehow benefit AAOS. For example, the 75rh anniversary class interviewed all of the Academy’s past presidents and talked to them about their accomplishments; these interviews were then used to reach out to younger members of the profession.”

The next phase of the program involves waving a (very focused) flag for patients and the profession. “During the first week of May the group heads to Capitol Hill with a finely tuned message regarding the needs of patients and the orthopedic profession. Prior to speaking with legislators they have spent hours crafting the message and learning how to deliver it in an effective manner. While in D.C. they also take a physician/patient communication workshop that focuses on communicating well, and in particular, showing empathy for the patient. Most participants are surprised to see the data indicating that we have become a ‘high tech, low touch’ profession…and that this is not necessarily what the patient always needs.”

Because a multitude of organizations contribute to orthopedics, the LFP dedicates a portion of the fellows’ time to learning about the structure and functioning of these different entities. Dr. Frick: “The last event of the program is the fall meeting of the Board of Councilors and Board of Specialty Societies. At this time the fellows gain an understanding of how orthopedic organizations function. They also obtain another view of how medicine is organized at a state level, and then how it comes together at a national level—and how they interact with AAOS. The format is a panel discussion which is led by mentors who relay their leadership experiences with different organizations.”

One of the most highly rated portions of the LFP, ” says Dr. Frick, “is the opportunity that fellows are given to visit the institution where their mentors work. Getting to see how these senior orthopedists operate in their own environments lends an invaluable real world dimension to the learning process.

While business school programs have grown shorter, there is still no “MBA in a day.” For those in the LFP, however, there is a chance to gain critical business skills in, well, a day. Dr. Frick: “Another element of the program is the time spent at the American Orthopaedic Association-Kellogg School of Management Leadership Modules at Northwestern University. Fellows are given the chance to learn specific information on areas such as strategic planning, negotiation skills and organizational leadership, and then follow that up with small group discussions about critical issues related to that topic.”

“We wind up the program, ” states Dr. Frick, by “helping participants get ‘plugged into’ the AAOS structure. Each leadership fellow chooses a committee and then stays on for two years. Many former Leadership Fellows have risen to become chairs of AAOS committees, and six have served on the AAOS Board.”

In order to stay on track, AAOS employs a detailed review process at the end of each program year. “In our evaluation process the fellows assess the program and sit down with members of the leadership development committee to review things piece by piece. They are asked to be very specific about what didn’t work, what could be enhanced, removed, etc.”

Words From a Recent Graduate

Although there will likely never be live surgery on Facebook, the reality of new modes of communication is unavoidable. Dr. Frick: “There are generational issues among people choosing medicine and young people are showing us that to be on the cutting edge, we need to be engaged in communicating via the web, including social networking. There are also exciting changes occurring in medicine from a science and technology standpoint, such as the human genome or changes in the delivery of surgical care that will alter the way orthopedic surgeons interact with patients. These and other current topics will likely be addressed in the LFP going forward.”

A newly minted Leadership Fellow, Dr. Jennifer Wolf, Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Colorado-Denver, was impressed with the Academy’s dedication.

The commitment of AAOS to building new leaders is incredible. Many top flight surgeons expend their time, energy, and funds to make this program a success.

Having participated in the LFP, Dr. Wolf could now find her way through the labyrinth of committees, boards, and external relationships. “Before the LFP I wasn’t familiar with the structure of AAOS, nor did I know that the Academy did so many things in so many areas. It was especially fascinating to attend the fall meeting of the Board of Councilors and Board of Specialty Societies and see the way they work in developing ideas and programs based on AAOS member feedback, such as the expert witness program. Also interesting was that many initiatives such as ‘sign your site’ (aimed at wrong site surgery prevention) have come about as a result of member suggestions. AAOS is really a member-run, ‘from the ground up’ organization.”

“Participating in the Kellogg courses gave me a treasure trove of knowledge, ” continues Dr. Wolf. “They have a very formalized, effective way of teaching leadership and governance. One of the primary ‘takeaways’ for me was how to disseminate an idea and get buy-in from others. For example, you should talk to different types of people because most ideas are disseminated person to person. You must determine who are the people making lots of interconnections among their peers and focus on those individuals to outline your plan or idea in-depth so that others will learn about it.”

She and her fellow fellows also learned to “herd cats”…and herd their own thoughts. Dr. Wolf: “Working with a large group people was instructive in that we had to have the patience and organization of thought to keep talking until we achieved a consensus. For example, when creating the scripts for the video we developed, there were 15 people and 15 ideas. It was interesting to see what kind of person adopted what role and what we would compromise on…and what we wouldn’t.”

As proof that the program lays the groundwork for practical leadership, Dr. Wolf says, “Serving as a committee chair within the AAOS, I have implemented the leadership skills that I gained during the LFP. These include how to run a meeting, gain a consensus, raise topics in a way that allows you to have a good deal of leverage, and how to move a meeting along so as to stay on track.”

Regarding how the Leadership Fellows Program might become even more useful, Dr. Wolf notes, “We all sat down and discussed how things could be improved, but the only thing we could come up with was that perhaps the meetings could be longer so as to decrease the number of gatherings. The only downside to that would be that you may lose a bit of momentum.”

Overall, there is really not room for improvement. This program develops future leaders within an organization that has great role models for mentorship in how to lead.


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